Religion has been a tool used in the oppression of LGBTQ+ people around the world. From Christianity to Islam, we read and hear of the atrocities committed against queer people simply because they do not conform to heteronormativity.
In the past few years, young people have left organised religion because of the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. While many would argue that the language in the bible has been changed countless times due to translation, others would argue that homosexuality is still not accepted in Christianity. The same goes with Islam. We read things like “you can’t be gay, and Christian.” or “you can’t be trans, and a Muslim.” This leaves you to wonder if the purpose of religion is to deny people of their faith, make them question their identities while perpetuating violence against them.
“I left Christianity because of the violence I faced,” Nelson, 27* says. According to Nelson, he was never safe as a Christian. “I lived with my parents and even though they knew I was bisexual and didn’t want to do anything with the church, they still forced me to. They felt the church was going to change me and that I would get delivered from the spirit of homosexuality running in my body, but when nothing happened, it became a war, and I had to move out.”
Tosin*, 24 believes that Christianity is nothing but unprovoked hatred. “My mum caught me and my then-girlfriend having sex in my room. I was reported to the pastor who told them to bring me to the church, and well, I don’t want to remember what happened, but know that I went through the worst form of conversion therapy possible. What did they do to me?”
Negative experiences like this make some LGBTQ+ people leave the religion they grew up with, and go in search of something else, like Voodoo. Unlike its Hollywood representation, Voodoo isn’t about dolls or causing harm to people who offended you. Just like other religions, Voodoo prides itself as a religion of peace, and it welcomes everyone, no matter their gender, or sexuality. In Benin, the Voodoo religion is practised by over 40% of the population, it is a recognised religion with a public holiday.
“I went to Benin to stay with an aunt after I ran away from home and she welcomed me. They (her and her husband) knew everything that happened to me, so they did everything to protect me. That was when I went to Ouidah with a new friend, and we got to see the Temple of Pythons. I became open to trying out Voodooism despite the bad things I had heard about it.” Tosin says. Tosin who now lives in Benin was never a believer in Voodooism, but after her visit to Ouidah and after her friend introduced her to a few people, she was willing to try it out. “I was given some items, I was taught how to pray and ask for things, and I saw different gods that I fell in love with. The best part is that they are kind. I told them I’m a lesbian, and they didn’t seem to have any issue with it. It’s been close to three years, and I don’t think I can go back to Christianity.”
Nelson had gotten introduced to it through the internet five years ago; after moving to Italy. “I want to believe that there are people who are tired of Christianity, and then go in search of their truth. I was once like that. I wanted something else to give me peace the way I thought Christianity did. I don’t remember what I was searching for, but I stumbled on a page that talked about Voodooism in Haiti and Benin, and I became interested. The more I searched, the more I wanted to know more. The day I knew I was never going back to Christianity was after I attended the Plaine-du-Nord festival which is held in Haiti. After that festival, I knew that was it for me and I finally found my peace.”
For queer people who turn to Voodooism, peace seems to be one of the reasons why they decide to give it a try. It could also be because of the connection between Voodooism and queerness. This connection can be found in the Voodoo gods who embody different gender identity and expressions. These gods are seen as a representation of queer people because of their appearance. Some of these gods are referred to as queer because of the life they must have lived, and transgender because of their gender expression.
“If you read, and maybe have Voodoo friends, you will surely hear us talk about our gods. My favourite is Baron Samedi because he is shown as a bisexual trans man. I believe he has an appearance in a Netflix show about witches” Kristoff, 24* says. Kristoff who is an ex-Muslim sees Baron Samedi as a representation of themself. Although they live in Paris where they can’t find other Voodooists, they never fail to tell people around them about the religion and their favourite god.
LGBTQ+ people need safe spaces that don’t discriminate, and Voodoo is giving just that to the people who were bold enough to leave the religions they were brought up with behind.
*Names have been changed to protect contributors identities.
Haitian Vodou and sexual orientation